Friday 26 February 2021

#CBR13 Book 8: "Guards! Guards!" by Terry Pratchett

Page count: 412 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 8 mins
Rating: 5 stars

The Night Watch of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork consists of only three people (although people might question if Nobby Nobbs is entirely human) led by the depressed and shambolic Captain Samuel Vimes. No one is more surprised than he when he finds out that they have a new recruit from the mountains who actually volunteed for the Watch. No one ever does that. The fact that young Carrot Ironfunderson claims to be a dwarf, even though he's 6 foot 2 and seems to keep misunderstanding how the city is run is something Vimes really doesn't really have time to worry about. He's busy either getting drunk or recovering from a hangover. 

Then, a series of mysterious incidents around the city leave people entirely vaporised, with wall tiles melted from high heat. Now everyone knows there's no such thing as actual dragons, that they disappeared a very long time ago, but it sure looks like there may be a dragon terrorising innocent (and not so innocent city dwellers). The city's patrician is very clear that the Watch leave the situation alone, no need to investigate and cause critical questions to be asked. One of the reasons why Vimes is the drunken leader of a sad bad of unwanteds, however, is that he doesn't really like to conform to what people expect of him. He enlists the help of Lady Sybil Ramkin, who knows everything there is about the only dragons that SHOULD exists, tiny swamp dragons. 

Not that anyone, let alone Vimes, is very happy when it turns out that there is in fact a big, dangerous dragon threatening the citizens of Ankh-Morpork. Now normally, these sort of situations seem to require a hero to be revealed to slay the dragon, and win the hand of the daughter of the king, but the Patrician doesn't even have a daughter (only an elderly aunt, who doesn't seem to want to marry anyone) and the ransom offered really isn't very high, so none of the regular heroes feel motivated to show up for the job. It might be up to Vimes and his rag-tag squad to save the city, the unlikeliest heroes of all. 

Reviewing a book I really love is much harder than reviewing one I hated or even one that was just fine. Terry Pratchett's Discworld books have been such an important part of life for the last 25 years or so. Reading my first one was a wholly different experience to any other fantasy novel I'd read before, and after moving to the UK for university, and especially after meeting the man who is now my husband (21 years together this year, baby!), the books became even more special to me, as he grew up with the series and loved them all. 

I knew no one else who read them when I was a teen in Norway. In the UK, Pratchett was a best-selling author every time he released a new novel. He did frequent signing tours (which is why many of my books are signed by him - Pratchett used to say it was rarer to find an unsigned copy of his works since he toured so much. My husband even has Good Omens signed by both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, not as easy a feat, since Gaiman didn't use to tour places near us very often). 

This was the first time I re-read Guards! Guards! for probably 15 years or so. Of the 40+ Discworld novels (if you include the various YA books he also wrote in the world, which I do), this is book 8, and probably the one where the series goes from being an interesting experiment where Pratchett tries to satirise traditional classic adventure novels and fantasy to something truly genius. From this book onwards, the books pretty much all keep getting better and better and sharper and more observant of human nature, modern society, politics, and generally the world at large, all delivered in the guise of humorous fantasy. Only with the last few books, written after the Alzheimer's really started affecting him, is the quality noticeably lower than in the rest. 

There's a number of entry points into the Discworld books, depending on what takes your fancy the most. There are the Death books, the Witches books, the Rincewind (and later Wizards of the Unseen University) books, there are a number of excellent sort of standalone one, like Pyramids or Small Gods. Later in the series, there are the Moist von Lipwig books, and the wonderful YA Tiffany Aching books. Guards! Guards! is the first of the City Watch books. The fact that this, not even the best of the ones featuring those characters, is a five-star book for me should tell you how amazing some of the later ones are. If you're a Pratchett novice, there are a number of guides online for where you could start (I don't really recommend just reading the series in chronological order, as some of the first ones just aren't that good compared to what came later). If you can't be bothered to look up any guides, however, this is a very good place to start. 

Judging a book by its cover: This book was first published in 1989, so it's obviously had a ton of different covers, depending on what country it was published in or what audience the publishers were trying to attact. Most of my Discworld novels have the original cover designs by Josh Kirby, which I can see might appear a bit chaotic and messy to some, but holds a lot of sentimental value to me. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read


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